Stimulus Payments Are On the Way — And So Are Con Artists

Money from the $2 trillion federal stimulus program is heading to millions of Americans this month, and an army of crooks is lining up to steal that cash.

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Federal stimulus payments are on the way to families around the Bay Area, with funds expected to start arriving in the coming weeks. Recipients should expect something else, too: attempts by criminals to intercept those checks.

Sanjay Beri, founder and CEO of Santa Clara tech security firm Netskope, says impostors will come out of the woodwork -- through letters, emails, text messages, phone calls, and maybe even a knock at the front door.

"Crooks and criminals feed on chaos," Beri said. "For them, this is the perfect environment."

The methods vary, but the goals is the same: either get your banking information, or trick you into handing over the money unwittingly -- even if it's just a small amount.

"They'll say they're part of the Trump administration," Beri said. "They'll say anything to try to basically get your personal data, or you, to give them $2, which adds up when you're trying to fleece hundreds of thousands of people."

We can't emphasize this enough: the IRS will not call you, text you, or email you. And, it won't send agents to your door to ask for personal information.

“If anybody texts you, and says, ‘Oh, I’m from the government,’ or ‘Here’s a free coronavirus test,’ click this link or call us back -- go to this link or call us to process your $1,200 -- it’s all a scam," Beri said. "The government never communicates like that by text.”

Watch Your Mailbox

Thursday, we learned new information about an important step in the stimulus payment process. The IRS says it will mail you a letter after it sends your money. Within 15 days of getting paid, that letter should arrive and confirm that you were paid -- and how.

Here's the important part: if you get the notice int he mail, but didn't get paid, the IRS says the letter will have instructions to report it.

Beri says we should be extremely cautious before clicking any links in an email or text message. Doing so could open up your phone, tablet, or PC to a wide variety of hacks and privacy attacks.

"Don't let texts, emails, or phone calls fool you," Beri said. "Don't click any of the links, and never give anybody any personal information over any of those vehicles."

Bottom line: be suspicious, and scrutinize every email and text, especially those that look like they're "official government business". If someone calls claiming to be from the IRS -- even if their caller ID reads IRS or Internal Revenue Service -- ignore them, or hang up.

If someone comes to your door with claims about the stimulus payments, end the conversation immediately, and report them to 3-1-1.

Even if you're confident you won't fall for any of these scams, remember seniors are prime targets. If you know someone in their golden years, please give them a call and remind them about all this. You might just save them a lot of heartache -- and money.

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